BAREFOOT and dressed in white, thousands of pilgrims gather on a hilltop overlooking Durban blowing on long metal imbomu tubes, a forerunner of the vuvuzela.

Every year the faithful from the Nazareth Baptist Church make a pilgrimage to Ebuhleni Mission, where their church's founder Isaiah Shembe lived.

This year's pilgrimage is especially poignant, coming as the church is finalising a deal with the manufacturer of the plastic vuvuzela that now symbolises South Africa's World Cup.

Under the agreement, Shembe will be recognised as inventor of the vuvuzela, an instrument his followers say he created a century ago using antelope horns.

"We saw (former US president) Bill Clinton blowing in a vuvuzela in a stadium. It is good for the church," said Enoch Thembu, spokesperson for the evangelical church that claims 5,2million followers across southern Africa.

The pilgrimage in their holy month of July is far removed from the World Cup celebrations in Durban, where surfers and bikini-clad fans watch games on jumbo screens on the beach to the relentless hum of vuvuzelas - a noise judged either to be joyous or maddening.

In this setting the sound is harmonious.

Despite their traditional beliefs, the Shembe have big ambitions for their newly recognised claim to the vuvuzela.

They want to claim intellectual property rights to the instrument and cash in on its manufacture.

"Our aim is to make jobs for South Africans and to generate some income for the church to look after the widows, orphans and destitute people," Thembu said.

He said the South African firm Masincedane Sport made at least 60 million plastic vuvuzelas before the World Cup, and the Shembe want at least a small slice of that pie.- Sapa-AFP